May 28 2009

In With the Good — Out With the Bad

Consider these five strategies for Internet filtering in a one-to-one environment.

Anyone who has run a one-to-one program at their school can tell you that things operate a little differently than at a school without one. Internet content filtering is one aspect of network management that truly changes when every student has a notebook.

Here are five strategies to help.

1. Don’t use manual proxy settings.

If your students have to manually enable an Internet proxy when they come on campus and turn it off when they leave, then you are bound to see more help-desk calls as a result. Consider a filtering solution that uses pass-by technology or a gateway filtering system, or automate the proxy settings for them.

If you need to set manual proxies, then push out Web Proxy AutoDiscovery settings via Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol. Keep in mind that not all browsers support WPAD settings and that students could run another browser from a USB thumb drive or from a download.

2. To filter at home, or not to filter at home?

This may be one of the hardest issues on which to achieve consensus. Should you filter the Internet content on computers when students take them off campus? If you are going to filter students’ activity while off campus, is your administration prepared to take disciplinary action based on inappropriate web surfing as it would if the same surfing were done on campus?

Not many filtering systems offer content filtering for mobile users. 8e6 Technologies uses agent technology that validates each and every request before allowing access. Such systems may impact your Internet bandwidth, depending on the architecture of the system you are considering. Open-source fans can configure a proxy server with Squid and open it up to the Internet so that students can access it from home. But beware: You will want to consider setting up authentication so you aren’t running a proxy for hackers on the Internet.

3. Find a filter that can stop malware.

When students have 24x7 access to a computer, you are bound to see more malware than on computers that are kept at school. As most technology personnel will tell you, students will click on absolutely anything. Peer-to-peer file sharing programs often can be grouped with malware because of the disruption they can cause on educational networks. Most content filters should be able to prevent this while notebooks are being filtered. Any Internet filter worth its salt will help you identify and stop those notebooks infected with malware.

4. What user authentication and reporting do you need?

Nearly all Internet content filtering systems provide some degree of reporting. For it to be effective, you need to correlate user names to web activity. Some systems require that a program be launched upon network login (often via script); others require that a pop-up window remain open; and still others check against your logon servers and correlate user names to IP addresses.

There are pros and cons to each authentication mechanism, and you will need to compare them to see which one will work best in your environment. For example, if authentication depends on a program that runs upon login, then students who restart their notebooks at home will not have the program running when they get to class. The simple solution is to have the students reboot the computer once they get to school, which is also a great time for other scripts or utilities to run. Whichever system your filter uses, make sure that you test it in your environment during your evaluation period.

5. Do you have the cache?

Some Internet filtering systems will let you cache content that is frequently downloaded. If you have a professor who asks all students to visit the same website, then each student’s computer has to reach out to the Internet and download the content. If you are using a caching engine, only one computer goes to the Internet while the rest pull content from the caching engine. Some schools have seen 30 percent to 40 percent of their Internet activity come from cache. For schools that have a slower Internet connection, a cache engine is critical.

A one-to-one student notebook program can present many unique challenges; one of which is how you handle Internet filtering. Many schools debate whether or not to filter. But if you are in the market for a new Internet filter, make sure it fits the needs of the one-to-one program.